RSPCA Australia considers the minimum acceptable age for a puppy to be removed from their mother for adoption or purchase to be eight weeks of age, and the puppy must be fully weaned.
Puppies are dependent on their mother. It is essential for their physical, psychological and social development that they are not separated from their mother too early. Separating a puppy from their mother too early causes distress, and can have long-term negative effects on their health and behaviour .
The ideal time to rehome a puppy takes into account their biological needs (e.g., for their mother’s care and milk), and the need for appropriate socialisation to their future home . Puppies gradually stop drinking their mother’s milk (weaning) at around eight to twelve weeks of age. By this time, they are eating puppy food and will be spending more time playing, eating and sleeping away from their mother.
Puppies are particularly vulnerable when they are separated from their mothers. Before they are transferred to a new home, puppies should be gradually introduced to short periods of time away from their mother and littermates, and the person transferring the puppy needs to be satisfied that they are fully weaned and ready for independent life.
Several Australian states and territories have introduced minimum animal welfare standards that aim to prevent puppies being separated from their mothers too early.
|State/Territory||Is there legislation relating to age of puppy at adoption?||Name of relevant act/special conditions and requirements|
|ACT||Yes||The Animal Welfare (Welfare of Dogs in the ACT) Code of Practice 2010 states that puppies should not be permanently separated from their mother before eight weeks of age.|
|NSW||Yes||The Animal Welfare Code of Practice Breeding Dogs and Cats under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulation 2012 states that puppies and kittens must not be re-homed before they are eight weeks of age.|
|NT||Only pet shops||The Guidelines for the Care and Welfare of Animals in Retail Pet Shops states that puppies and kittens under eight weeks of age must not be offered for sale in pet shops.|
|QLD||Only pet shops||The Code of Practice for Pet Shops states that all animals offered for sale should be weaned and able to feed unaided.|
|SA||Yes||The Standards and Guidelines for Breeding and Trading Companion Animals states that prior to the transfer of ownership to a client puppies and kittens must be fully weaned and have been on an established diet for at least a week.|
|TAS||No||No minimum standards to prevent puppies being separated from their mothers too early.|
|VIC||Yes||The Code of Practice for the Private Keeping of Dogs and Code of Practice for Breeding and Rearing Establishments state that puppies must not be separated from the mother before seven weeks of age and not sold or given away before eight weeks of age.|
|WA||No||The Standards and Guidelines for the Health and Welfare of Dogs states that a puppy must not be permanently separated from the dam (mother) and littermates for the purpose of transfer unless the puppy is at least eight weeks of age and is fully weaned.|
 Dietz L, Arnold A-MK, Goerlich-Jansson VC (2018) The importance of early life experiences for the development of behavioural disorders in domestic dogs. Behaviour 155:83–114